December 08, 2005

The Secret Handshake "This Is Bigger Than You or I"

It's a bit tedious, this whole "emo" to-do. "New grunge," blah blah blah, "all songs have emotional content," blah blah blah, "it's a youth movement meant to help kids get in touch with their feelings," blah blah blah, "you're too old to understand," blah blah blah, "emo died when the kids graduated from high school," blah blah blah*. There's a point to be made underneath all that cynicism. Sadly, I can't tell you what that point is, because...well, I don't know what the point is, other than "emo" means less to some than it does for others. I'm one of those "means less" people. (I made the mistake of attending an Alkaline Trio show a few years ago; not that the music was bad, but the experience of feeling like a high-school chaperone at a "punk" show made me feel old.) Superficially speaking, Dallas' The Secret Handshake appear to be a ripe candidate for the "emo" tag. A young fanbase, "serious" sounding album title, and lyrics that demonstrate youthful melancholy. Superficially, I wasn't really looking forward to listening to this little record. You should never judge a record by its cover, though, as was instantly learned here. Following on his 2004 debut album, this six-song EP may be brief, and it may be a tad "emo," but it's certainly not as bad as my stereotyping-mind led me to believe.

The music found on This Is Bigger Than You or I all seems to follow the same formula; the songs are mellow, piano-based affairs, all highlighted by Luis Dubuc's earnest singing. The first three songs sound like a Coldplay/Travis/Ben Folds blend that are not without their charm. "An Outline" is a gorgeous radio-friendly pop number; the same could be said of "Coastal Cities," an otherwise gorgeous song that's ruined somewhat by some rather amateurish studio vocal effects at the end. "Don't Call" borrows a piano tag from Parachutes, and the ticking clocks are a subtle reference, too. All three songs show a great deal of promise. The last three songs, however, aren't up to the high standards of the first half of the record. "Friendly Reminder" is a seemingly incongrous acoustic singalong number; "Love of My Troubles" sounds too much like a bad Radiohead imitation, while "The Giver" is simply forgettable, generic, whiny emo-pop.

Though the last half of the record is forgettable, the first three songs are excellent and show a great deal of promise. If Dubuc escapes the more generic-sounds of the last half of This Is Bigger Than You or I, then his next record might be something to look forward to.

--Joseph Kyle

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*For best effect, imitate the teacher in the animated Peanuts specials.

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